Last Thursday, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names was expected to vote in favor of a change several years in the making: renaming Colorado’s iconic Mount Evans. But in the minutes before the meeting started, the vote was canceled.
This surprise delay is the latest chapter in the long, controversial reckoning over the legacy of John Evans, the former territorial governor of Colorado, who oversaw the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. Advocates hoped to rename the site Mount Blue Sky, a suggestion from the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
The Northern Cheyenne, however, oppose the new name because of its connection to a tribal ceremony. “It’s a sacrilege to our tribe to throw that phrase around in public,” tribal administrator William Walksalong tells the Denver Gazette’s Carol McKinley and Marianne Goodland.
On Wednesday night, the tribal government filed a request for a “government-to-government consultation,” prompting the delay.
The name change has been gaining momentum since 2020, when Jared Polis, Colorado’s governor, established a board to analyze contentious names of landmarks around the state, according to Saja Hindi of the Denver Post.
Since then, the effort to rename Mount Evans has generated 56 proposals and years of board meetings, according to the Denver Gazette. Mount Blue Sky was one of six names under consideration last fall. After receiving the governor’s approval earlier this month, the process was in its final stages.
“To me, everything was in order,” says Fred Mosqueda, the Sand Creek Massacre representative for the Southern Arapaho tribe, to the Denver Gazette. “We had a celebration in Denver over this new name moving forward.”
The coalition that works with tribal representatives reports trying “many times” to negotiate with the Northern Cheyenne, but to no avail, reports the Colorado Sun’s Tatiana Flowers.
Walksalong, in contrast, tells the Denver Gazette, “We sent a letter and said we hadn’t been formally consulted [by] the state of Colorado. We felt ignored, just like we were ignored at Sand Creek.”
The Sand Creek massacre took place in the fall of 1864 near Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado. Around 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho people had followed their chief Black Kettle to the site, where they waited to hear back from white authorities regarding recent peace negotiations.
Troops led by Colonel John Chivington attacked the peaceful group early on the morning of November 29, slaughtering around 230 people—mostly women, children and the elderly. Evans had appointed Chivington to his post and praised him after the massacre took place. The attack is known as the deadliest day in Colorado history.
In the years that followed, “the massacre receded from white memory, to the point where even locals were unaware of what had happened in their own backyard,” Smithsonian magazine’s Tony Horwitz wrote in 2014. At the same time, it “left an open wound among the Cheyenne and Arapaho,” who watched as “many sites in Colorado were named for Chivington, Governor Evans and other players in the massacre.”
As for Mount Evans, officials haven’t yet revealed an updated timeline for moving forward with the name change.
The initiative is part of a larger nationwide push to retire landmarks’ offensive names. Last fall, hundreds of federal sites removed a racial slur from their names; around the same time, a site at the Grand Canyon was renamed in honor of the Havasupai Tribe, whose members were forcibly removed from the area in the 1920s.